I have always loved the Fourth of July. Like many of my childhood friends, and my generation, I am the son of a World War II veteran. We were raised with a deep, almost genetically-based patriotism. It was not a political statement at that time, or at least I didn't see it that way. It was an awareness of how lucky we were to be born in this nation "conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men were created equal." Patriotism meant loving our country for what it has given us- and more importantly- what we could do for our country.
That was a long time ago now. Half a century and more. But the Fourth of July- Independence Day- has never lost it's shine and excitement for me. Even in the midst of the Vietnam-era divisions, many of us remained deeply committed to the patriotic ways, although it soon became a political statement and not a healthy way of life. It became a point of contention as if to seek for greater exercise of freedom- the very fundamental of our country- was unpatriotic. But the flag leading the parade, a Sousa march, Fourth of July fireworks continued to make me feel a sense of hope.
Over the last several years I have had the added joy of being able to play in our local Fourth of July concert. To stand with the trumpets and play the closing section of "Stars and Stripes Forever" is a musical moment of patriotic joy; to play the Army field march takes me back to learning if from my Dad and I think of his service and sacrifice; the noise of firecrackers and the crowd having fun is what it is all about.
Last year, however, I had a moment in the middle of the concert that caught my attention. It was, of course, in the midst of the presidential election campaign. Donald Trump was ready to be nominated. I had the thought, "What if he wins? Is this our last truly free celebration of our independence?" I pushed it away, not out of denial, but of the hope and trust in our American way to do the right thing.
Trump did win. So far we have not lost our American way. I think we are still free. But the signs are not as hopeful as they were a year ago.
- We know that the Russians in some way or another have worked at hacking our election- the very foundation of our democratic process. (I still do not believe there was actual, active collusion between the Russians and Trump. I am not so sure of some of his campaign staff, however.)
- Fake news through social media and perhaps even the Russians has brought a division and an ongoing and escalating attack on the integrity of our freedom of the press- another basic foundation.
- The President himself continues to take strange and seemingly irrational actions against anyone who may disagree with him.
- Last week a commission has requested all voter data from all 50 states, including information that may not be public, potentially threatening the rights of privacy of our electoral process.
Underneath those is the even deeper question that got Trump elected in the first place- the increasing losses of a healthy middle class. Instead of working on these together and developing new and creative plans for making a difference, we are expanding and exploiting the differences in the name of political gain. Add to that the just as deep issue of racism and the rise of white supremacy taking advantage of the divisions- and we have a difficult time to be living in.
This is not the country I grew up in. These are not the ways of greatness. They leave me with a sense of dread that I have written about here before. The courts have shown some ability to slow down some of the more troubling aspects. People have taken to the streets in mostly peaceful protests, interrupted only by, as usual, a small handful of those who are there only to make trouble.
There is not much I can do about any of this in action. I can write these words; I can talk to friends who may not agree with me and make sure I listen to them as much as I hope they will listen to me. I can, in my actions on a daily basis show that I am one who wants things to be different.
In the end I have to maintain my personal hope in the institutions and history that have allowed us to get to this 241st anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. The great American Experiment of freedom is still a work in progress. I pray that it continues to be alive and filled with hope. I cannot- and must not give up on that hope.
THAT is what patriotism is all about.